Location: Lake Lure, USA
It's my intention that this will be my final entry regarding the China trip. I wanted to have a few days to absorb that experience with my feet (and eventually my head) back in the home time zone.
As we have watched the Olympics coverage, we've been reminded of our time in China, many times saying "oh, look, we were there" or "it's a smoggy day in Beijing, look familiar?" Mostly, we're enjoying the vicarious re-visit with such intense coverage of everything from the landscape to the governance to the food (including some items we definitely didn't try) to the amazing people.
One memory that lingers is my sense of what I've come to think of as "The Great Mall of China." A part of every tour was a visit to a factory where Chinese goods are made. I think of this less as commercialism than as an effort to show off their products, but they were happy to have us leave as many yuan or dollars as bargaining would bring. We were allowed up close enough to see the toll that some industries take on their people, for instance the sure eyestrain in the enamel factory. We also witnessed the genuine pride that artistry all along our path engendered in those whose skills and talents were displayed.
I will long remember our continuing amazement at the number of people and bicyles and clotheslines outside apartment windows and homes. The sheer vastness of the country itself and the visible concentration of so many people into the most crowded parts of the country remain in my mind's eye. We were told in advance not to expect the Chinese to have our same need for "personal space" and we found that to be true as many times in so many places we were mobbed by vendors. Then, too, we saw the people's joy in spreading into open spaces from Tiananmen Square to the Summer Palace to Beihai Park.
The food was always served family style with dishes coming one after another until the table's lazy susan was stacked with plates. As a people, the Chinese are mostly lean. Clearly, they aren't eating every day the way they were feeding us. On the other hand, despite our long treks in one place after another, they probably sit much less than we do and exercise is a way of life, no gym needed. I will forever be jealous of the way they can rest in a squat--no creaky knees to be found! I will forever be charmed by my memory of a morning at the Temple of Heaven where they danced together with delight, so enticing that it drew our group in. It left me wishing that we would dance in public spaces with such abandon and such joy.
A continuing pleasure from the trip is a burgeoning email correspondence with a 17-year-old student who wants to improve her English. Her enthusiasm to learn not just English, but French and other languages, is a lesson to all of us. She is reaching out to learn and grow and communicate. I'm honored that she has asked for my help and happy to give it.
I will close with this thought. Whatever one's governance, the essential human spirit can be constrained, but not squelched. There is freedom of thought and expression in the human heart that will come out in some form, even if it is only evidenced in the will to survive and to connect with others. I saw that in the Chinese, along with irrepressible hope for a better life ahead. Always, I felt our differences were experiential, rather than inherent. I was inspired to work harder to understand those who appear to be different and to find how we are alike.
We returned to Charlotte late last night, having said goodbye to our fellow travelers. Our bags still haven't caught up with us, but the customs and baggage morass in Chicago was so crazy that we felt lucky to actually make our connecting flight. It was a close call as our seats had just been released, but they were able to reclaim them for us just before closing the doors.
Today has been a day of severe jet lag and catching up with our life here. Memories of China linger, of course, and we will be reflecting on them for a long while to come.
We made new friends, both those in our group and those we met in China. Many of those who crossed our path through China spoke no English and we didn't exchange names, but shared common experiences and sometimes made photos together. We found the ever-present Beijing Olympics slogan, "One World. One Dream" to have truth in it. Certainly the smiles we shared and the efforts to communicate said we're all part of one world. Our dreams, we found, are similar, but come from different perspectives.
One person's dream is another's given. Many givens we know in America are beyond the wildest dreams of many in China. That doesn't mean that they are not happy, just that their reality is painted in different colors than ours. The lack of material possessions in their lives causes them to value life differently. It's not a matter of better or worse, just different.
As Confucius said, "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." Looking back on our trip, the simple truth seems to me to be that we are all the same under the skin, but instead of valuing our surface differences, we choose to make them barriers. When those barriers are down, we enrich each other.
As we watch the Olympic coverage, we will all see the new China revealed. This is their moment in the world spotlight. As the curtain draws back, they will put themselves on stage. As they've done for a long time, they will attempt to direct what's visible to the rest of us. As with any performance, we viewers will interpret their display with our own perspectives.
It is my hope that on both sides of the curtain, we will learn. It's so important to the Chinese and to the rest of the world to find the connections between us and the way to collaborate in our shared future.
Location: Shanghai, China
What a day in Shanghai weve had! The hotel has made us comfortable, although we spent all day out and about in temperatures around 95 with about 80% humidity. We walked to YuYuan Garden which is not just a garden, but a restored government officials estate from ancient times that includes a series of buildings wrapped around courtyards and garden areas. Its a maze with decorations representing the many gods of that era on rooftops, huge carved dragons along the tops of garden walls and stonework designs in the walkways. Some of the trees are hundreds of years old, including a gingko and a magnolia. There were also oleanders in bloom.
There is and has been so much superstition in the Chinese culture. Everywhere weve gone there are representations of the many beliefs that have been part of the history here, symbols for luck, for health, happiness and wealth. After the estate, we wandered through a marketplace where much of this symbolism was available for sale in every form. Side by side with these vendors were Dairy Queen (and a delicious chocolate milkshake) and Starbucks (iced latte) for tastes of home.
We took the bus to the Bund area along the yellow-colored Huang Pu river. On the western side of the river, the Bund is about a mile-long stretch of buildings reminiscent of Europe, reminders of the time with Britain, Germany, France and others established businesses here. On the eastern side of the river is an area of futuristic buildings, almost all constructed over the past 16 years or so as part of a plan to modernize Shanghai.
There are about 24 million people living in the Shanghai area, 17 million of whom were told are locals with the rest being from other parts of China. Our guide told us that many elderly poor choose to stay in an area known as Oldtown where they are most comfortable with their peers, despite the fact that they have to line up mornings to use a community washroom because they have no running water in their homes. Although we know there are many poor people here, this city seems both more prosperous and cleaner than the others weve visited. As in other places, construction is going on everywhere and the skyline is dense with skyscrapers, many of which are architecturally innovative.
As with other young guides, we heard again today about the impact of the one-child policy in China. It weighs on their minds with concern for a need to take care of an older generation that is exploding here with fewer young people to take the responsibility.
Our city guide talked about his childhood as an only child in a city where dogs and cats were not allowed to be kept as pets. He claimed to have had silkworms as pets. Since their lifespan is only about two months, he lamented many lonely times without even the companionship of the silkworms.
Perhaps this was a fable because we were on our way to lunch at a restaurant over a silk factory. After lunch we toured the factory and, of course, the shop that goes with it. More purchases were made by our good Canadian and American consumers before we left for the next stop.
We spent some time at the Jade Buddha Temple, a peaceful oasis in the middle of this busy city. People come there to tour or to worship and incense burns throughout the day in the courtyard. We were treated to a musical interlude by a group of monks, playing drums and other instruments. My funny moment here was seeing a young monk in full garb talking on a cell phone as he walked through the colonnade. The temple does, of course, contain shops, including an area where calligraphers will create a customized prayer for visitors.
We went from the temple to an early show of the New Shanghai Circus. Its in a nice theater and the performers are truly gifted acrobats, dancers, jugglers, etc. The conclusion of the show has five motorcycle riders zooming around in a huge wire cage onstage. We had close-up seats and literally gasped through their performance.
Another dinner, our final scheduled lazy susan experience of this trip, concluded the evening for some of us who were ready to rest. Others went on an optional nighttime tour of the city, known for its nightlife. We waved goodbye to them and happily left another sweltering day behind for the wonderful air-conditioned joy of our hotel.
Tomorrow we leave China, but we will take it with us in souvenirs and memories. Well need time to absorb all that weve seen and done here. One thing is clear and that is that we could come back in five years and find even more changes. Theres no question that the pace of change here is speeding up and plans are laid to keep that momentum going forward.
Location: Shanghai, China
It is just after midnight in Shanghai and were on the bus from the airport to the city and our hotel. The flight from Guilin was very full and somewhat turbulent, but we landed safely if rather roughly with a hard bounce. Perhaps a new pilot just got his/her wings! During the flight there was an altercation a few rows in front of us that created a stir, eventually resolved by the flight attendants.
Before I tell about our day today, I have to correct the post from Yangshuo about the show we saw. It was actually directed by moviemaker Zhang Yimou. He also directed the movies Raise the Red Lantern and Red Sorghum.
Now for our day today. We left Yangshuo by bus back to Guilin in the rain. Along the way we stopped to take pictures of a rice farmer and his/her water buffalo, plowing a paddy. The message of that stop was that raising rice is so difficult that children are taught not to waste a single graineach grain of rice is a drop of sweat. Interesting that in America we were told to eat all our food and not waste because there were starving children in China. Hmmm.
One of the interesting parts of this trip was seeing water buffalos strolling across the highway either singly or in groups. Despite the traffic going along fairly regularly both ways, these beasts seem oblivious to any potential danger. They remind us again of the contrasts we see here--from skyscrapers to rice paddies, air travel to water buffalos, China fits it all together in intricate patterns of an ancient culture that is bounding into the future with enthusiasm.
Arriving back in Guilin we went to the Reed Flute Cave. It's quite a tourist attraction, complete with specal lighting inside and many stalactite and stalagmite formations with names conjured up by the imaginations of those who came before us. On this rainy day, it was wetter than usual, so we stepped through carefully. One cavern can hold as many as 2000 people, they say, and they've had cocktail parties and even black-tie dinners in there.
It was reminiscent of other caves in the States and elsewhere except that in addition to the gift shop outside there was actually a spot inside where they sell rocks. The best story about this cave is that local people kept its existence a secret for many years, using it as a shelter in World War II when the Japanese were bombing this area.
After lunch, we headed for Fubo Park, a nice little riverside park that includes a hill with 326 steps to the top, its own little cave with Buddhist inscriptions and a nice walk along the river. We watched local folks swimming, fishing and even washing clothes just below the park. All along the shore are makeshift houseboats.
We then went to a local university campus on the site of an ancient imperial prince's palace. Apparently he fell out of favor due to an overzealous ambition and was banished from Nanking to this part of China where his descendants lived for centuries. Now their former home has become a haven for students in many disciplines, including art. We visited the art department's gallery and saw a demonstration of traditional Chinese painting, done with ink and brushes of goat and wolf hair. Several of us bought paintings done by either students, teachers or professors. Once again, a stop on our tour included the omnipresent shopping experience.
Then, with time to kill before our late flight, we stopped at a local hotel in a park where some walked, some went for reflexology (the popular foot massage that has become a fad here) or happy hour in the hotel bar. It was a good time to chat about both what we've seen here and our lives at home.
Finally, off to dinner, then the airport for our flight to Shanghai. The terminal was crowded, but in the midst of hundreds of people one of our folks from Toronto sat down right next to a woman of Chinese descent who lives in Toronto. That old small world saying proves true again.
We've now transitioned into our hotel here in the heart of Shanghai. It's lovely, obviously either new or newly renovated. What we'll all welcome is beds that seem a bit softer than we've found in most of our accommodations. Tomorrow we explore Shanghai.
Location: Yangshuo, China
We're leaving Yangshuo in minutes to return by bus to Guilin. Last night's light spectacular was just that--astounding! It was designed by Liu Sanjie, the same fellow who's designing the opening ceremonies in Beijing.
It was the most amazing combination of lights, costuming, staging (against a backdrop of the karst mountains) and performance, all set in a lagoon. Torches, huge streamers, boats and more boats, singing, synchronized choreography--it was truly an astonishing sight. We saw through the rain and no one minded getting soaking wet because the show was so unusual. Despite the fact that we couldn't understand the lyrics, we were all moved and amazed.
Off the Guilin for a day of sightseeing there and a late flight to Shanghai. Mike can't post pictures from here, so he'll double up in Shanghai, the Internet willing!